a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings during the year. According to the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), government forces allegedly committed human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, with the FACA responsible for 22, the national gendarmes five, and police two. On January 8, a FACA member who worked as prison guard in Bossembele killed a detainee, and on February 21, a gendarme killed a man at an illegal checkpoint in Boda. Additionally, according to reports by MINUSCA and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), armed groups committed multiple arbitrary or unlawful killings. MINUSCA reported that armed groups killed 241 civilians in total in the second quarter of the year, including 82 killings by Return, Reclamation, Rehabilitation (3R), 53 by the Union for Peace (UPC), and 45 by the Popular Front for the Renaissance in the Central African Republic (FPRC).
Armed rebel groups, particularly members of the various factions of ex-Seleka and Anti-balaka, killed civilians, especially persons suspected of being members or sympathizers of opposing parties in the conflict (see section 1.g.). The killings, often reprisals in nature, included summary executions and deliberate and indiscriminate attacks on civilians.
In May the 3R armed group organized two simultaneous attacks, killing 41 civilians and seriously wounding five in Paoua Province. The United Nations Experts Group investigated the incidents and determined 32 persons were massacred as a reprisal for exactions committed against members of the Peul ethnic group. Nine others were killed for stealing nearly 400 oxen belonging to the Peuls. The local branch of the Central African Observatory for Human Rights confirmed these numbers and distributed a communique highlighting the victims’ information.
Additionally, in May local security forces reported elements of 3R killed an additional 15 civilians in the village of Maikolo. As of September the United Nations was investigating these cases.
The government publicly condemned these killings, memorialized the victims with three days of mourning, and arrested three of the perpetrators. The detainees were 3R commanders Issa Salleh (alias “Bozizee”), Mahamat Tahir, and Yauba Ousman. Sidiki, the leader of the 3R, denied having any prior knowledge of the incident. The three commanders remained incarcerated while awaiting trial. Prosecutor General of the Bangui Court of Appeal Eric Didier Tambo confirmed these accused killers were scheduled to be tried in CAR’s Special Criminal Court (SCC).
There were numerous killings of civilians by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a Ugandan rebel group that operated in eastern regions of the country, and other armed groups including the Anti-balaka, 3R, Revolution and Justice (RJ), the Patriotic Movement for the Central African Republic (MPC), UPC, FPRC, and Democratic Front of the Central African People (FDPC) (see section 1.g.).
According to the NGO Invisible Children, between May and June, the LRA perpetrated attacks on civilians in the Mbomou Uele region. The LRA reportedly kidnapped and robbed 25 civilians. Sixteen were released; however, the whereabouts of the remaining nine remained unknown.
The 3R, MPC, UPC, FPRC, and Anti-balaka groups participated in ethnic killings related to cattle theft (see section 6).
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. There were reports that forces from the ex-Seleka, Anti-balaka, and other armed groups were responsible for politically motivated disappearances. Those abducted included police and civilians (see section 1.g.).
There were many reports of disappearances committed by the LRA for the purposes of recruitment and extortion (see section 1.g.).
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Although the law prohibits torture and specifies punishment for those found guilty of physical abuse, there were reports from NGOs that FACA soldiers, gendarmes, and police were responsible for torture.
In February the United Nations investigated and concluded that Russian mercenaries were responsible for violating the human rights of Muslim coffee trader Mahamat Nour, who was arrested, detained, and tortured in Bambari. After five days in detention, Mahamat was released and taken to a hospital in Bangui, where he received treatment for an amputated finger, lacerations, and bruises. In early October a local report claimed an unidentified assailant shot and killed Mahamat Nour at his home in Bambari after he returned there.
In June, three FACA troops that were seconded to Chinese mining companies in Bozoum were accused of raping a local woman. The victim was hospitalized and received several surgeries to repair injuries suffered during the attack.
On June 15, two French journalists, Charles Bouessel and Florent Vergnes, and local political activist Joseph Bendouga were arrested, detained, and beaten by members of the Central Office for the Repression of Banditry (OCRB). The arrests occurred while the three men were reporting and photographing a peaceful demonstration in Bangui. The OCRB was accused of confiscating and destroying their equipment. The French journalists were released without charge after six hours in detention; however, Bendouga remained detained and was reportedly tortured for four days.
There were reports of impunity for inhuman treatment, including torture, according to credible NGOs, and abuse and rape of civilians, that resulted in deaths by forces from the ex-Seleka, Anti-balaka, LRA, and other armed groups (see section 1.g.).
In June MINUSCA reported that within a one-week period there were more than 20 cases of sexual abuse and other human rights abuses in six prefectures across the country, including the Mbomou, Basse Kotto, Ouham-Pende, Nana Mambereee, Nana Gribizi, Bamingui-Bangoran, and Ombella M’Poko prefectures.
There were allegations that four MINUSCA personnel raped local women. The United Nations investigated one of the cases and referred the others to the troop-contributing countries.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) independent expert and international NGOs, conditions in prisons did not generally meet international norms and were often inhuman.
MINUSCA detained and transferred to government custody several medium- and high-level armed group members.
Physical Conditions: The government operated three prisons in or near Bangui: Ngaragba Central Prison, its high-security Camp de Roux annex for men, and Bimbo Women’s Prison. A combination of international peacekeepers, FACA, prison officers trained by MINUSCA and the Ministry of Justice, and judicial police guarded both men’s and women’s prisons. In March, 150 new civilian prison officers began training in Bangui, which was expected to increase the total to 250 officers. As part of the demilitarization of the prison service, responsibility for prisoner health services was transferred from the defense to justice ministry.
On August 30, General Inspector of Judicial Services Joseph Bindoumi identified a number of discrepancies at the severely overcrowded Ngarabga prison in Bangui. With 21,500 square feet of surface, the prison of Ngaragba contained 1,023. Bindoumi stated that the density of the population in the prison was of two prisoners per square meter and that only 200 prisoners had been regularly tried and condemned.
Nine prisons were operational outside the Bangui area: Bangassou, Bouar, Berberati, Bimbo, Bossangoa, Bambari, and Mbaiki. Detention facilities rehabilitated by MINUSCA in Bangassou and Paoua reopened in March. In other locations, including Bossembele and Boda, police or gendarmes kept prisoners in custody. Most prisons were extremely overcrowded. Necessities, such as food, clothing, and medicine, were inadequate and were often confiscated by prison officials. Prisons lacked basic sanitation and ventilation, electricity, basic and emergency medical care, and sufficient access to potable water. Diseases were pervasive in all prisons. Official statistics regarding the number of deaths in prison were not available. Conditions were life threatening and substantially below international standards. The national budget did not include adequate funds for food for prison inmates.
Authorities sometimes held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners, juveniles with adults, and failed to separate prisoners by gender. In Bangui, however, prisoners were separated by gender. Smaller prisons in cities such as Bouar, Mbaiki, Berberati, and Bossangoa segregated male prisoners from female prisoners, but conditions were substantially below international standards. Female prisoners were placed in facilities without ventilation or electricity. All detainees, including pregnant women, slept on thin straw mats on concrete floors.
There were no detention centers or separate cells in adult prisons for juvenile offenders. The accusations ranged from murder to witchcraft and petty crimes. Police and gendarmes held individuals beyond the statutory limits for detention before imposing formal charges.
Administration: Prison detainees have the right to submit complaints of mistreatment, but victims rarely exercised this option due to the lack of a functioning formal complaint mechanism and fear of retaliation from prison officials. Authorities seldom initiated investigations of abuse in prisons.
Prisons were consistently underfunded with insufficient operating resources for the care of prisoners. There were reports that complainants paid police or gendarmes fees for their complaints to be heard. Additionally, prison guards and administrators were accused of charging prisoners, prisoners’ family members, and other visitors’ unofficial fees.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by UNHCR independent experts and international donors. The government also permitted monitoring by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Human Rights Council’s independent expert on human rights in the CAR.
Improvements: In March the government and agencies of the United Nations launched a nationwide recruitment of 150 new prison officers.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government sometimes observed these requirements. There were, however, reports of arbitrary detention and lengthy pretrial detention. Ongoing challenges included a lack of affordable legal representation and an unresponsive judiciary system.
Police and gendarmes have responsibility for enforcing law and maintaining order. Prior to the conflict, police and gendarmes maintained limited or no presence in many areas. During the violence that commenced in 2013, police and gendarmes withdrew from the interior. Since 2014 the police and gendarmerie have gradually increased their presence in several previously vacated towns. Deployed officers, however, remained poorly trained, under resourced and supplied with poorly functioning arms and insufficient ammunition for their tasks.
Impunity remained persistent throughout the country. Contributing factors included poorly trained officials, inadequate staffing, and insufficient resources. Additionally, claims of corruption among top government officials, delayed receipt of salaries for law enforcement and judiciary employees, and threats from local armed groups if officials arrested or investigated members persisted.
MINUSCA’s uniformed force of 12,870 military personnel, police officers, and military observers were tasked to protect the civilian population from physical violence within its capabilities and areas of deployment. MINUSCA’s 2,080 police officers were authorized to make arrests and transfer persons to national authorities.
The Mixed Unit for the Repression of Violence against Women and the Protection of Children (UMIRR) investigated 75 cases of gender-based violations and gender-based violations and filed 14 out of the 75 to the Appeals Court of Bangui to be tried during the 2019 criminal session. No statistics were available about those who were convicted. UN officials reported the prosecutor general of Bangui often did not take up cases UMIRR referred to the prosecutor.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
Judicial warrants are not required for arrest. The law, however, stipulates that authorities must inform detainees of their charges and present them before a magistrate within 72 hours. This period is renewable once, for a total of 144 hours. The only exceptions are suspects involving national security. Authorities often did not respect these deadlines, in part due to poor recordkeeping, inefficient and slow judicial procedures, and insufficient number of judges.
Authorities sometimes followed legal procedures in cases managed by gendarmes or local police. Many detainees could not afford a lawyer. Although the law provides that a lawyer be provided for those unable to pay in felony cases where a sentence of 10 years or more could be imposed, lawyers are not provided for nonfelony cases. Remuneration for state-provided attorneys was 5,000 CFA francs ($8) per case, which deterred many lawyers from taking such cases. For individuals detained by ex-Seleka and Anti-balaka and placed in illegal detention centers, legal procedures were not followed and access to lawyers was not provided.
Prosecution of persons subject to sanctions by the UN Sanctions Committee did not occur.
Arbitrary Arrest: The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. Arbitrary arrest was a serious problem, however, and some ex-Seleka and Anti-balaka groups arbitrarily targeted and detained individuals.
Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention was a serious problem; specific reliable data were not available.
Although recordkeeping of arrests and detentions was poor, the slow investigation and processing of a case was the primary cause of pretrial detention. The judicial police force charged with investigating cases was poorly trained, understaffed, and had few resources, resulting in poorly processed cases with little physical evidence. The court system did not hold the constitutionally mandated two criminal sessions per year. Judges resisted holding sessions due to security concerns and insisted on receiving stipends beyond their salaries.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Although the law provides detainees the right to challenge the lawfulness of their detention in court, in practice, many detainees were not able to exercise this right due to a lack of affordable legal services and an unresponsive justice system.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, there was a lack of independence of the judiciary from political actors. In 2013 the Seleka destroyed court buildings and records throughout the country, leaving the judicial system barely functional. In 2017 the president issued a decree that appointed eight members to the Constitutional Court, four of whom, including the president of the court, were women. A total of 18 of 27 first instance and appellate courts were operating during the year, including 16 outside of Bangui. The courts in Bangui and some other major cities, notably Bangassou, Bouar, Berberati, Bossangoa, Mbaiki, Boda, and Bimbo, resumed operation, but the deployment of magistrates and administrators outside Bangui was inadequate. Many judges were unwilling to leave Bangui, citing security concerns, the inability to receive their salaries while in provincial cities, and the lack of office space and housing.
Corruption was a serious problem at all levels. Courts suffered from inefficient administration, understaffing, shortages of trained personnel, salary arrears, and lack of resources. Authorities, particularly those of high rank, did not always respect court orders.
In 2018 the National Assembly adopted the rules of procedure and evidence for the SCC. In October 2018 the SCC officially launched investigations and in December 2018 publicly launched a prosecutorial strategy. In 2019 the SCC moved into permanent premises, and the special prosecutor opened at least four investigations from 22 identified priority cases. Judges were conducting investigations of an additional three cases. The SCC was established by law in 2015 in the domestic judicial system and operates with both domestic and international participation and support. The SCC jurisdiction comprises serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, including genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.
MINUSCA was assisting in setting up the SCC victim and witness protection unit, as provided for by the SCC founding law and the SCC rules of proceedings and evidence. Some victims and witnesses were already under the unit’s protection during ongoing SCC proceedings. Some unit protection staff have been on boarded and more were under recruitment; protection equipment was been delivered and more is in procurement; court procurement; court personnel and other individuals in contact with victims and witnesses have been receiving training on protection and other subjects.
Operations of the courts of appeals for criminal courts in two of the country’s three judicial districts–the Western district based in Bouar and the Central district based in Bangui–held criminal sessions during the year.
In August the Court of Appeals of Bouar held a criminal session during which six former combatants from the Patriotic Movement for the Central African Republic (MPC) armed group were convicted and sentenced to 10 to 15 years of imprisonment. The Appeals Court of Bangui held its criminal session from September 18 to October 17. A total of 29 cases including murder, rebellion, armed robbery, and rape were tried. On September 23, the court tried Abdoulaye Alkali, a senior officer from ex-Seleka, on the charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. He was sentenced to six years in prison although General Prosecutor Eric Didier Tambo requested the sentence of life imprisonment.
The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. The penal code presumes defendants innocent until proven guilty. Trials are public, and defendants have the right to be present and consult a public defender. Criminal trials use juries. The law obliges the government to provide counsel for indigent defendants; this process delayed trial proceedings due to the state’s limited resources. Defendants have the right to question witnesses, present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf, and file appeals. The government sometimes complied with these requirements. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges (with free interpretation as necessary) from the moment charged through all appeals, to receive adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Authorities, however, seldom respected these rights.
With the assistance of MINUSCA and international donors, the government established the SCC, which is tasked with investigating and prosecuting serious human rights violations. It has a focus on conflict-related and gender-based crimes. The internationally nominated chief prosecutor for the court took office in May 2017. More than a dozen international and national positions within the court, including judges, prosecutors, and clerks, were filled.
Criminal hearings resumed in Bangassou, Bouar, and Kaga-Bandoro.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary in civil matters, but citizens had limited access to courts in order to file lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation. In 2015 the civil courts resumed operations with regular sessions. There is no system for protecting victims and witnesses from intimidation and insecurity. Consequently, victims, who often lived side-by-side with perpetrators, were reluctant to testify against perpetrators because there was no assurance of their safety and a credible judicial process.
The director of the Mixed Unit for the Repression of Violence against Women and the Protection of Children (UMIRR), Commander of the Gendarmerie Paul Andre Moyenzo, reported the case of a nine-year-old girl who was sexually abused. The case was investigated by UMIRR, and the perpetrator was arrested, brought before the Court of Bangui and sentenced to years in prison. After release from prison a short time later, the perpetrator returned to the village and again threatened the victim, who also was stigmatized by her community.
Several civil courts were operational in Bangui and other prefectures in the western region.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law prohibits searches of homes without a warrant in civil and criminal cases, and there were no reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions.
g. Abuses in Internal Conflict
There were serious abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law by armed groups. The ex-Seleka and the Anti-balaka fighters operated freely across much of the country. Reports of abuses included unlawful killings, torture, abductions, sexual assaults, looting, and destruction of property.
UN agencies and NGOs stated that humanitarian actors had not perpetrated any sexual violence during the year. Media reported one allegation of sexual abuse by a MINUSCA soldier from Senegal. Senegalese authorities were investigating the allegation.
The United Nations reported that between June 12 and June 18, elements of the Anti-balaka and ex-Seleka sexually abused 25 victims, including 23 men and two women. These incidents occurred in the prefectures of Mbomou, Basse-Kotto, Ouham-Pende, Nana Mambere, Nana Gribizi, Bamingui-Bangoran, and Ombella M’Poko. The majority of the perpetrators were members of FPRC, MPC, UPC, Fulani, FPRC/MPC Coalition, and FPRC/Arab.
Killings: In March a 23-year-old man employed by the international NGO Oxfam was arrested, tortured, and killed by elements of the FPRC in Bria.
In Haute-Kotto, Vakaga, and Bamingui-Bangoran prefectures, the FPRC illegally arrested and detained 46 persons at checkpoints between Bria and Ippy. There were reports that seven of the detainees were executed.
In May, 77-year-old Sister Ines Sancho, from a Franco-Spanish national and Catholic religious order, was killed by unknown assailants in Nola, the prefecture of Sangha Mbaere. Pope Francis and the Catholic bishop of CAR denounced her murder.
Abductions: There were reports that armed groups kidnapped civilians. In April FDPC elements kidnapped three persons in the village of Zoukombo. Two months later the hostages were released unharmed.
In June, 3R elements in the village of Baoro abducted a local driver, robbed him of 15,000 CFA francs ($25), and released him after a ransom of 10,000 CFA francs ($17) was paid. MINUSCA was investigating the case.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Members of armed groups, including the ex-Seleka and Anti-balaka, reportedly continued to mistreat, assault, and rape civilians with impunity.
Child Soldiers: Armed militias associated with Anti-Balaka, ex-Seleka, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), and other armed groups forcibly recruited and used child soldiers in CAR; however, there were no verified cases of the government supporting units recruiting or using child soldiers during the reporting period. Armed groups recruited children and used them as combatants, messengers, informants, and cooks. Girls were often used as sex slaves. The United Nations also documented the presence of children operating checkpoints and barricades.
Despite the MPC, part of the ex-Seleka, signing of the United Nation’s action plan combatting the use of child soldiers, the group continued to have children in its ranks. The FPRC and the UPC issued orders barring the recruitment of children; however, NGOs reported the continued presence of children among these groups’ ranks.
In 2005 the government ratified the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. In 2017 it also ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. These conventions prohibit the involvement of children in armed conflicts. During the year the government, UNICEF, and various NGOs worked with the armed groups to combat the exploitation of child soldiers. Negotiations culminated in the identification and removal of 1,816 children, including 371 girls, from armed groups.
During the year the Report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict verified that recruitment and use of children in armed conflicts continued in the country. The report highlighted the use of child soldiers by the UPC, FPRC, MPC, Anti-balaka elements, ex-Seleka, Renovee, FDPC, LRA, and 3R. In January, 119 child soldiers, including 34 girls and 85 boys, were repatriated from the Revolution and Justice armed group. In May a campaign was launched in the capital against the enlisting of children in armed conflict that advocated for their protection and social reintegration.
Also see the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.